Human Trafficking Victims and the Child Welfare System

Fong, R., & Berger Cardoso, J. (2010). Child human trafficking victims: Challenges for the child welfare system. Evaluation and Program Planning, 33, 311-316.

In recent years there has been increased attention to child sexual exploitation worldwide. In the United States, federal and local services for victims of human trafficking were expanded following the passage of the Trafficking and Violence Protection Acts of 2000 and 2008. Yet these services are designed primarily for adults. Fong and Berger Cardoso (2010) discussed the need to better serve the several hundred thousand children in the U. S. who are victims of human trafficking. Particularly at risk are girls and children who live close to international borders. Victims of child trafficking in the U.S. are often channeled through the child welfare system and are referred to private therapists for treatment. Although these therapists may have training in treating sexual abuse, they may not be prepared to address the unique experiences of child victims of human trafficking. Child victims of trafficking (1) may be unaccompanied minors with parents in other countries who have been deceived into believing that their children would receive education or employment opportunities, (2) have often experienced severe levels of violence and coercion, as well as substance abuse and social isolation at the hands of traffickers as a means of forcing compliance, (3) may have been homeless or part of the foster care system, and (4) may have had their behavior criminalized and need assistance to deal with the juvenile justice system. According to Fong and Berger Cardoso, child victims of human trafficking are at increased risk for anxiety, stress, affective, conduct, and personality disorders as well as low self-esteem, suicidality, substance abuse, interpersonal difficulties, and poor academic achievement. They recommended that child welfare organizations collect more extensive information on trafficking issues during intake and investigations and develop programming directly targeting the needs of this population. In addition, they suggested that more research be conducted to identify best practices for treating the mental health needs of child victims of human trafficking.

Making Connections

Sexual abuse

Media Supplement

In this TED Talk Sunitha Krishnan discusses her work rescuing women and children from sex slavery.